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Suicide: Changing the Language

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by Cathy Seehuetter
The Compassionate Friends
St. Paul, MN Chapter

Police Officer Christopher Seehuetter
10/6/1972 – 6/02/2012

Once in a while I write a post regarding the language of suicide. I really hope that people will read it because it is very important for us to spread the word on how we speak of suicide. I’ve been thinking about it a lot again lately, especially since the two-year anniversary of my stepson’s suicide was just on June 2nd, and wanted to share my thoughts in the hope that someone will read it and that that someone will also educate someone, when given the chance, to help us with the mission to change how we say it:

SUICIDE: It is a death that has so many layers and agendas that it adds another whole level of difficulty to an already terrible loss. Using the word “committed” before suicide is like fingernails down a chalkboard to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. We are trying to change the language around suicide and no longer say “committed”…and I don’t care for “completed” suicide myself (we wouldn’t say that someone “completed” cancer or “completed” a car accident.

The reason that “committed” is a difficult term for the survivors left behind after a suicide has occurred is that “committed” generally indicates that what happened was a crime…from back in the Dark Ages when families were even imprisoned when a family member died of suicide (the stigma that still remains following a death by suicide is difficult enough and I pray one day there will be more understanding and education surrounding that as well).

Death by suicide occurs usually by a person who is in so much pain emotionally and sometimes physically that they see that as the only option left to end that unbearable pain.. And they truly believe in their heart that they are helping their families by leaving this world…that their loved ones are better off without them. It is not the “coward’s way out”…it is a pain that those of us without that level of hopelessness and darkness cannot begin to comprehend. Died “by” suicide. Died “of” suicide. Died “as a result of” suicide. Died “from” suicide. “Lost to” suicide; and even “took their own life” (because that is a reality)…but, please, never “committed”. Help those who have suffered this unthinkable loss by changing the way you and others say it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this.

About the Author: Cathy Seehuetter has been involved with The Compassionate Friends (TCF) – an international organization for bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents – since shortly after her daughter, Nina, died at the age of fifteen in 1995 following a vehicle accident involving an impaired driver. Cathy has served in many areas within TCF  including: St. Paul (MN) Chapter Leader, Regional Coordinator, newsletter editor, National Board of Directors, serving part of the time as secretary (3 years) and vice-president (1 year). Cathy served two terms (six years), which is the maximum that a board member can serve. She was also Chair for the National Conference in 2011 and is a conference workshop presenter.

Cathy is the stepmother of Officer Christopher Seehuetter and an advocate for bereavement education and support for families touched by suicide. In the future, look for other articles on this website written by Cathy about her children, Nina and Christopher.

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  1. pacwp says:

    Cathy, I found you when you like a comment I made on another blog post, and am glad I have followed that chain to your blog. Suicide is never a subject we find easy to discuss, but it is one that we must discuss. Thank you for your blog and the message so gently said

  2. Thank you. As Person With Dementia I did not understand much of your article, but I understand concern about terminology. I wrote about it at http://truthfulkindness.com/2014/07/24/service-user/ . I think it important that we address these issues and appreciate your efforts. :-) Truthful Loving Kindness is my full legal name because it reminds me what I want my life to be about — not my disabilities.

  3. bobby10850 says:

    Cathy… I completely agree with everything you said about the words “committed” and “completed.” My 28-year-old son and only child died by suicide at the age of 28 just over 4 years ago. He did so because he had to end his pain and thought this was the only way. I know he did not intend to hurt us nor did he necessarily want to die. But he felt this was the only way to end his pain.

    Thank for sharing! Robin

  4. I couldn’t agree more. So very sorry, Cathy, that this handsome, lovely man is no longer with you and that you also lost your daughter. So much pain to bear.

    I lost my dad when I was 13 that I say was a casualty of war. That terminology sits right with me because we all think it’s the truth. Two months ago two of my good friends lost their young adult sons to suicide.

    So we cling together during these sorrows, support and educate, too.
    Blessings and prayers abound. MJ

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